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Verbal jousts

 If we crane an ear to the other side, most of the problems will be solved. 

 If we crane an ear to the other side, most of the problems will be solved.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

When there is no problem around, invent one. Perhaps this is the maxim that drives our celebrities these days. They are quick to trigger controversies.

I am no celebrity. But my friend and I were travelling in an autorickshaw towards Gandhi Vihar in New Delhi. We were talking, laughing, sharing jokes and inanities as we usually did in our private space. Just then, a policeman angrily shouted at the driver and gestured him to stop the autorickshaw. We were suddenly withdrawn from our conversation. There was no sign of “no entry” anywhere. The movement of other vehicles around us also made it clear that it was not a routine police check. Just as the autorickshaw came to a halt, the young policeman irately ordered us to come out. We were bewildered, rather scared.

“What did you just say pointing at me,” he asked. “We were having a conversation between us and we didn’t even notice you,” I said.

“Don't be oversmart,” he warned and said a word which we had not heard before. It was a Haryanvi slur, which he accused us of using against him. Despite our attempts to convince him that we were from Odisha and we had no clue of Haryanvi, he was uncompromising. “Learn to respect the uniform,” he said with an audacious display of bravado. “We do respect the uniform, sir,” we replied in unison. He was probably a young recruit with warm blood and a suspicious mind. During this confrontation, a man with a broken helmet quietly sneaked past us in his scooter, one hand on the handle and the other on the helmet which probably had broken halves.

The policeman was hellbent on making us admit the “guilt”. We were obstinate too. The dissension escalated. At last, however, he asked us to leave, with an indecent swagger, and warned not to repeat the folly. The autorickshaw driver happily restarted his vehicle. But I was unwilling to escape at his mercy. I was not agreeable to admitting to a crime I didn’t do. I barked at the driver to stop the autorickshaw. My friend stared at my face. The policeman was thunderstruck too. He probably didn’t expect a vehement protest from my polite face. “We are repeating this. We didn’t utter the word. In fact, we don’t know the word. Why don’t you simply understand our viewpoint,” I questioned him with desperate enthusiasm.

“Okay, go,” he said at last, though his face still betrayed his thinking that we were wrong and he was right. The driver didn’t wait for my approval to start the autorickshaw. I made sure not to look back at the policeman.

With hindsight, I completely understand his viewpoint. A young recruit would never appreciate anyone laughing at him, anyone hurling a slur at him. But his truth was premised on an assumption that we knew Haryanvi. His fallacy was his inability to amend his charges. He never listened to the other side. There is a lot of grey between black and white. If we crane an ear to the other side, most of the problems will be solved.

I strongly believe that each indigenous language is an entity in itself. Any attempt to impose one over the other will only further the differences. There will be commotion. But there must be a misunderstanding in the root of it.

For instance, in our case, had the misunderstanding been nipped in the bud, the language war would not have taken place.

debasish.writer@yahoo.com


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Printable version | Jun 26, 2022 4:33:22 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/verbal-jousts/article65547022.ece